The US is not ready to "give up the ship" on the India-US nuclear deal, engaged as it is in hard diplomacy with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to get India an exemption for nuclear trade.
"We are going to continue to work within the group and work with individual states to try to move it forward," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday ahead of the September 4-5 meeting of the nuclear cartel in Vienna.
"We are not giving up the ship at all. It's a very tight series of deadlines that were out there, in terms of working this through the international system, working it through our Congress," he said.
The 45-member grouping, which had last month failed to reach a consensus on giving India a "clean waiver" from its guidelines in the face of objections from some, is meeting again on Thursday to consider a revised US draft to meet their concerns.
The third top US diplomat - Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns "who's been deeply involved in this" - will lead the US delegation to Vienna this time. He will be joined by acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security John Rood, who had represented Washington at the August 21-22 NSG meeting.
The US, McCormack said, was in touch with other NSG members to impress upon them that the deal is in the interests of global non-proliferation efforts and something that is worthy of the group's support.
"We believe that this is an issue in which the NSG should act and should move forward," McCormack said. "But, again, there's a lot of hard diplomacy that goes into that in getting a consensus within the group."
"We have made the assessment that this is in our interests, it is in the interests of India to develop civilian nuclear energy, while providing some assurances regarding non-proliferation activities," McCormack said. He admitted that some NSG members have expressed concerns about the deal, but declined to either name them or specify what apprehensions they have.
"I am not going to name them, but we have talked to a lot of them. They have announced themselves publicly. You can look it up and what their concerns are," McCormack said.
At least six NSG members - Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands - are reported to be opposed to a "clean waiver" for India as they fear it will impact adversely on the non-proliferation regime.
The spokesman also indicated that the Bush administration would not give up on the deal even if the NSG defers its decision on the India waiver to September 11-12 as widely speculated, leaving little time for US Congressional approval.
Asked if a 'rump' session of Congress, currently scheduled to meet briefly from September 8-22, will be convened to push the Indo-US nuclear deal, McCormack said: "All I can say is we are going to keep pushing forward on it."
Meanwhile, a senior Republican leader has held out the possibility of a lame-duck session of Congress after the November 4 presidential election. Though not specifically called to approve the India-US nuclear deal, it could possibly take it up given support from both sides of the political divide.
Hurricane Gustav and the fight over offshore oil drilling have made such a session a near-certainty, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, who is also chairman of the Republican National Convention, told the Congressional Quarterly.
Boehner said he doubted lawmakers could wrap up their work in the closing three-week session of Congress. "There's going to be a lame-duck. The only question is how long and what will be covered," he was quoted as saying.
The magazine cited senior Republican aides as saying the fate of a lame-duck session would likely depend on the outcome of the general election. They said they doubted Democrats would have interest in a lame-duck session if Barack Obama wins the presidency.
However, they said, there might be more interest in such a session if Republican candidate John McCain wins and congressional Republicans gain seats or lose few seats in the House.
The Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she was not planning for a lame-duck session. "I'm not thinking in that direction," she said on August 24.
House Majority Whip James E Clyburn, however, said he believed a lame-duck session was becoming increasingly likely because of an impasse on whether to extend the moratorium on offshore oil drilling in a must-pass continuing resolution to keep the government operating.
"We have not talked about it yet. But I think there's a very good chance that we might have a lame-duck," Clyburn was quoted as saying.